New Bones: Contemporary Black Writers in America.
Since the beginning of the 1990s, the significance of the black written and oral traditions has been confirmed by a number of anthologies--African American Literature (1995), Cornerstones: An Anthology of African American Literature (1996), The Norton Anthology of African American Literature (1996), Call and Response: The Oral Tradition (1997), and The Prentice Hall Anthology of African American Literature (2000). Additionally, these anthologies announced the validation of black literary studies in the world of white publishing companies and the academic arenas of colleges and universities.
Narrowing its focus, New Bones: Contemporary Black Writers in America collects the works of black authors publishing between 1970 and 2000, praising its assortment of "well-known and newer voices" as" quite literally new bones." These new bones, or new body, of expressions possess an inclusiveness that marks the work's greatest strength. With a generous representation of the traditional genres of poetry, fiction, and drama, the anthology also highlights literary theory, speeches, gay and lesbian writings, popular/commercial writings, and autobiography. The editors have assembled a diverse group of authors, introducing each with critical headnotes that assess both biographical backgrounds and the literary value of the included selections. In this way, the anthology takes a bold step in defining "contemporary" as being the past thirty years and selecting works that best represent those decades. Many scholars avoid the precarious ledge of defining and selecting the contemporary. Remaining on top of current liter ary movements and artists demands a great deal more than looking back and qualifying earlier expressions, notions, and creative approaches. Importantly, New Bones' "Introduction" respectfully locates its contents in the continuum of the black literary tradition, but the focus here is to specify a body of writings that, no doubt, will serve as the major barometer for future anthologies of black literature.
However, even as New Bones strikes a powerful new chord in widening the chorus of literary voices, its major flaws surface in the organization of those voices. The editors choose to present the authors alphabetically by their last names rather than by chronological order according to age or publication dates, or grouping by genre. Unfortunately, this approach discourages an evaluation of the connections and interdependence of artistic styles, literary movements, and cultural/political themes. Granted, the headnotes punctuate the individual accomplishments of each writer, but the book's arrangement results in rather jumbled juxtapositions: For example, the author Octavia Butler (science fiction) appears between Gwendolyn Brooks (poetry) and Bebe Moore Campbell (mainstream fiction). Likewise, essayist/critic Comel West surfaces between poet Michael Weaver and a focused study of fiction writer John Edgar Wideman. For a new or undergraduate reader of black literature, this type of compilation obscures the inextri cable association among the newer and older voices during the past thirty years and before. At the same time, at the text's end, a single page includes a listing of names of "Additional Contemporary Authors" without any context to assess or pursue the cursory amalgamation of names.
New Bones is certainly the result of extensive researching, evaluating, and selecting. Its appeal rests within its bold recognition of the variety of aesthetic, political, and intracultural issues permeating contemporary black literature. With more effective planning, qualifying, and organizing of the content, New Bones could have been an essential anthology, rather than just a valuable text for one's library.
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|Publication:||African American Review|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2002|
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